The Art of Forgiveness
“In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you learn to let go?” – Buddha
A wise person once said that anger is just a mask for your hurt feelings. (If I told you that person was Ruthie from Real World Hawaii, would you lose respect for me?) That sentiment has always stuck with me, mostly because I think it’s so damn true.
Like any other human being, I have been hurt and I have hurt others. Sometimes the beef is instantly squashed, and sometimes we hold on to grudges for weeks, months, even years. Seems kind of crazy considering most hurt feelings can be remedied by a meaningful apology — but what do we do when we don’t get the apology we think we deserve, or what about when “I’m Sorry” isn’t enough? Sure, ruminating in anger caused by a person who has hurt you provides a temporary sense of satisfaction. But as long as you’re walking around with emotional shackles, you’re not going to get very far very quickly. What feels better: Sitting around thinking about all the different ways somebody has wronged you, or not thinking of that person at all?
While it’s much easier said than done, choosing to forgive somebody is probably one of the most freeing things you can do in a situation where you can’t seem to let go of hurt feelings. The best part is, you don’t even have to wait for that person to say they’re sorry! You know why? Because when you forgive, it’s not about the other person– it’s about you.
In the past, I’ve been scrutinized for continually forgiving those who have wronged me, and have sometimes viewed this quality in myself as a weakness. I recently spent two years depressed because I hadn’t talked to my sister, because I was mad at her. During those same two years, I was also not talking to an old friend who had continually proven himself to be unworthy of my time. I’d wake up, sling my feet over my bed, start my day, and think about how I was gonna teach them a lesson: “Ha! You want to act like an asshole? Well I’m gonna’ show you! Watch me not care about you!” I’d spend entire weeks walking around not caring about these people who had wronged me, getting on the subway still not caring, gainfully employed sitting at a desk not caring not caring. Until I realized that neither of the people I was angry at were even close to being as affected by my “not caring” as I was. Because, after dragging around a million pounds of emotional baggage that weighed so heavily on me everyday, I realized I, in fact, cared a lot. And as soon as I made the decision in my brain to let go of my pissed-off-edness, I felt 3,000x better.
That’s why you should never view the act of forgiving somebody as “giving in” or “being weak.” Even if you know the person still sucks, even if they never even said sorry to you, even if you still think about what they did and it burns you up. That’s when you know it’s time to let it roll off your back. Because you rule, and they suck, and rather than spend hours trying to unravel the twisted layers of their psyche that has caused them to act a certain way, it’s easier to just say, “I forgive you,” and get on with your day. So in a way, forgiveness can be viewed as a selfish act. It’s designed to make your life easier.
This year, I chose to forgive people who had hurt me many times in the past. And while some have gone on to prove themselves to be an asshole (yet again), I don’t regret that I forgave them. In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever get down on myself for continually giving people chances. Alternately, there are also some people that I’m still working on forgiving. It’s not an active conversation that I’m having with said offenders, it’s a personal thing. Not because what they did was OK, but because their actions are likely a product of their upbringing and surroundings, and go much deeper than something nasty they said or did to me.
In the end, I feel badly that they are weighed down by their past, present and questionable future. So I choose to forgive, and in turn I feel lighter.